Copy from The Times
Thomas Waldrom, the overlooked England No 8, inspired Exeter Chiefs to a superb five-try win as pool two was thrown into chaos on the final day of the Champions Cup group stages.
With Bordeaux-Begles winning with a bonus-point 37-28 in Clermont, three teams – the Exeter, Clermont and Ospreys – finished on 16 points in the pool, making for a hazy qualification calculation. But Exeter were soon confirmed as pool winners on points difference – there were only three points in it – and head into the quarter-finals.
Waldrom and the impressive James Short both touched down twice as an injury-ravaged Exeter side finished their pool in style. It was not a match for the faint-hearted: five players were either replaced or assessed for concussion inside the first half.
Waldrom, however, caught the eye amid the carnage. He carried with venom and capped his performance with an audacious 45-metre clearance kick that found touch from the tightest of angles.
Dan Biggar, who went into the weekend as the Champions Cup’s leading scorer with 66 points, had few opportunities to add to his tally as the Devon side dominated territory.
Despite being deprived of their England 6 Nations contingent due to injury – Jack Nowell, the wing, Henry Slade, the inside back, Luke Cowan-Dickie, the hooker, and Sam Hill, the uncapped centre, were all out – Exeter were a consistent handful in attack.
The pick-and-go has been a potent weapon for the Chiefs throughout their European campaign, and it yielded two converted tries for them in the first ten minutes. Don Armand drove over from short range after a powerful carry by Waldrom, and Waldrom crossed himself seven minutes later.
In between, Ospreys scored a try of their own, as Hanno Dirksen, the winger, capitalised on a penetrating run by Brendon Leonard, the scrum half. Biggar converted.
If the tries were flowing, so too were the tackles. Justin Tipuric delivered two bone-juddering challenges, while Ospreys briefly lost Alun Wyn Jones, their captain, for a concussion assessment.
The scoreboard operator was able to relax for the remainder of the half, although Exeter continued to threaten. England may not be short of options at winger, but James Short also played well in a free-spirited, hard-running performance, dancing off his left wing and cutting a succession of potent lines.
Tipuric provided the Ospreys defence with some welcome relief on the half-hour mark with a sortie into the Chiefs’ half, but the supporting Leonard couldn’t hold on to the ball under pressure from the scrambling home defence.
A revolving door of players headed off to the medical room for concussion checks as the big hits continued, with Geoff Parling, the former England lock, leaving the pitch eight minutes before the break.
Ospreys began the second period with a slick, multi-phased attack and Biggar slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit to four. But the region’s task was made tougher when Scott Baldwin, the hooker, was yellow-carded for a no-arms tackle on Waldrom.
They were swiftly punished when Short latched on to Steenson’s cross-field kick and brushed off Sam Davies’s challenge to score Exeter’s third. Short scored his second 14 minutes later in similar fashion, this time collecting Phil Dollman’s pass and seeing off the attentions of Biggar.
Ospreys pulled seven points back when a penalty try was awarded after Exeter illegally halted an irresistible-looking driving maul. But with two minutes to go, Waldrom again rumbled over and Hooley slotted the extras.
Scorers: Exeter: Tries: Armand (3), Waldrom 2 (9, 79), Short 2 (51, 65). Conversion: Steenson (4, 11, 66), Hooley (80). Ospreys: Try: Dirksen (8) Penalty (71). Conversion: Biggar (9, 72). Penalty: Biggar (46).
Scoring sequence (Exeter first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-5, 7-7, 12-7, 14-7, h/t, 14-10, 19-10,24-10, 26-10, 26-15, 26-17, 31-17, 33-17.
Exeter: P Dollman; O Woodburn, M Campagnaro (rep: M Bodilly, 62), I Whitten, J Short; G Steenson (rep: W Hooley, 68), D Lewis (rep: H Thomas, 62); A Hepburn (rep: B Moon, 59), J Yeandle (c) (rep: E Taione, 32-38, 70), A Brown (rep: H Williams, 62), J Hill, G Parling (rep: O Atkins, 32), K Horstmann (rep: T Johnson, 74), D Armand, T Waldrom.
Ospreys: D Evans (rep: S Parry, 50), H Dirksen (rep: S Davies, 21), J Spratt (rep: O Watkin, 67), J Matavesi, E Walker, D Biggar, B Leonard (rep: T Habberfield, 66), P James (rep: N Smith, 51), S Baldwin, D Arhip (rep: A Jarvis, 53), L Ashley (rep: R Thornton, 28), A Wyn Jones (c) (rep: R Thornton, 21-24), S Underhill, J Tipuric, J King.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France). Attendance: 11,415.